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Of this, there cannot be a more striking example, than what happened to St. Paul, the most learned and perhaps the most industrious of the Apostles, in Athens, a city which at that time was reckoned, as it had been reckoned for ages before, in wisdom and learning, the first in the world.
It does not appear that he wrought any miracles there. We may suppose that the Almighty rather chose to leave that people to judge according to their own common sense, and according to the enquiries which they might easily make, whether what he said was true: thus putting them fairly on their trial in respect of that judgment and reason, on which they were used to pride themselves so much. If they would but employ their thoughts half as attentively on the lessons which St. Paul taught, as they were accustomed to employ them on mere curious questions, such as their wise men delighted in, there would be no need of mighty works, signs, and wonders, to make them believe. Or if, having attended, they still refused to be Christians; "neither would they believe, though one rose from the dead."
And whereas one great use of miracles wrought by the Messengers of Christ was to draw men's attention to the Truth : the Athenians needed this less than others, because, as St. Luke here. tells us, the whole city," and the strangers which were there, spent. their time in nothing else, hut either to see or hear some new thing.” Curiosity, a passion for news, took up their minds more than any thing. How then could they help attending to Lessons so thoroughly new and wonderful as St. Paul' was now bringing
One true, eternal God, Maker and Governor of all men and all things; His favour, the only happiness; Faith in Christ crucified, and true Repentance, the only way to be favoured by Him; the end of all, everlasting Life or Death, to to be adjudged by the same Jesus Christ according to men's behaviour here :--what could be newer, or more unheard of, than this, to a people struggling in heathen darkness, perplexed with philosophy and vain deceit ? Whatever they might find to say against it, at least they could not deny that it was new. And as such, the Evangelist tells us, they really did pay attention to it. They brought St. Paul before that council, to which, in their city, it properly belonged to consider and judge of new opinions; and said, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou
speakest, is : for thou bringest certain strange things to our ears : we would know, therefore, what these things mean.” In answer to which, he first put them in mind, that they themselves had an altar in their city, consecrated “ To God, who is unknown ;” thus acknowledging their own ignorance :—that they also considered themselves to be God's offspring, thereby condemning the ordinary folly of fancying the Godhead to dwell in things of “gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art or man's device :” and then he showed them how what he taught agreed with this “ natural Religion ” of theirs ; namely, That there is one God, who made all the nations of the earth and ordered them by His Providence, if so be they would seek Him: in Whom we live, and move, and have our being : Who although in former times He had winked, as it were, at men's ignorant idolatries, “now commandeth all men every where to repent: because He hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained : whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised Him from the dead.” Thus skilfully did the great Apostle make the most of those fragments of Truth, which the Athenians already acknowledged; yet boldly rebuking their heathenish follies : and ended with enforcing that awful doctrine, which most concerned them and all men, the eternal judgment of mankind by CHRIST JESUS, made sure by His Resurrection from the Dead.
Now, how were these new and strange, these most awakening and important truths, received among those lovers of novelty, and seekers, as they professed to be, of deep truths, as yet unknown? The Text tells us, and it is worth our most serious consideration : When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked ; and others said, 'We will hear thee again of this matter.' So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit, certain clave unto him, and believed.” There were, it seems, three kinds of listeners among them. “ Some mocked;" for want of any thing better to say, they turned those divine instructions, on which the life of their souls depended, into a matter of contempt and ridicule. Others said, “We will hear thee again :" their consciences told them there was a good deal in it, but they had, not yet courage to make up their minds to become Christians altogether. They quieted themselves as they might for the present,
much as Felix did afterwards, when he said to the same St. Paul, “Go thy way for this time: when I have a convenient season, I will send for thee.” Lastly, a few sincere ones there were, who not only listened to what was said, but fairly gave themselves up to it, not only with their lips, but in their lives. They “clave unto him, and believed.” But out of that great and learned city, as far as St. Luke gives us to understand, these last and best were few indeed ; very few, compared with the numbers who became Christians in other places, which St. Paul visited about the same time.
Surely, one cannot think on these things, without perceiving, first of all, the great dangerousness of indulging such tempers, as those Athenians had been trained up in : love of what is new, and conceit of themselves, as being wiser and more knowing than others. “ All the Athenians and strangers which were there, had spent their time in nothing else, but to see or to hear some new thing." What is the consequence ? An Apostle comes among them, and preaches through Jesus the Resurrection from the dead : and when they hear him, some mock him, and others say, they will hear him again. Can words speak more plainly, to warn men that the love of hearing new things is but a very ill preparation for receiving Christian instruction as one ought ? The matter is this : Christian instruction is a grave, sober, practical thing.
It lies within a small compass, a very few plain truths, the truths contained in the Apostles' Creed, the LORD's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. To meditate on these over and over, will soon become a wearisome thing, if not accompanied and followed with an honest, and hearty, and constant endeavour to obtain God's grace, and live accordingly. But in such quiet and serious endeavours there is nothing engaging or striking enough, to a mind that is set on novelty and amusement. It seems like the same well-known story, coming over and over again : and people too soon persuade themselves, that they understand it already, and need not regard it. Which notion once encouraged is an effectual bar to stop men's minds, against the teaching not only of St. Paul, but of our Blessed Saviour Himself.
Be warned, then, once for all, against this childish love of novelty: which, if indulged, is sure to make you tired, before long, of God's presence and teaching. Be warned also of this certain truth : that the only way not to be overcome by such wearisome, irreligious feelings,—the only way to make divine truth ever fresh and interesting to you,—is to practise what you hear ; to try and suit your behaviour to it, in all circumstances and varieties of life. The old truths will thus become better understood, and continually appear in something of a new light, as they are continually applied to the new occasions, which life, from day to day, will bring forth. But the same truths merely talked of and thought on, without being diligently put into practice, will soon become, what I fear many people find them, a tedious tale, which they are glad to have done with.
Again ; this part of St. Paul's history appears to warn us, no less earnestly, against the pride of wisdom and knowledge. Those Athenians considered themselves as by far the most sensible people in the world, and the best instructed in useful truths; and, in many respects, so they were : and yet, when the true wisdom came among them, you have heard how they received it; either they ridiculed it, or they put it off for the present. Who, after such an example, would not be afraid to value himself for being in any respect more knowing or more ingenious than some of his neighbours ? Alas! you had better be quite senseless, than take such delight in your knowledge or skill, as to turn away from the Cross of Christ, and despise or neglect eternal things.
But now, if the eager love of novelty, and the conceit of useful knowledge, are tempers very dangerous to be encouraged, tending to make people more or less ashamed of Christ, and weary of the Gospel, surely the men of this age and country are in very great danger; since there never was a time nor a people, as far as we know, since the world began, more abounding in new things, or more eagerly set upon them. There never was a time nor a people, among whom the conceit of knowledge and understanding, on every subject, had more to encourage it.
Accordingly, it is found every day that the plain truths of the Creed and the Catechism, such truths as St. Paul would have taught the Athenians, are presented in våin to men's eyes and ears. They are so taken up with looking and listening after something quite new; so delighted with their own skill in contriving something for which they expect to be admired, or at least
in finding fault with former contrivances, that they will not pay any attention to the message sent them by their Saviour from Heaven. Above all things, they stop their ears against the doctrine of a judgment to come.
“It is the old story," they say ; we know it all beforehand :" and they turn their minds, as quick as they can, to something or other which they love better to
And in this conduct, so like the Athen ans, men differ, as they did, among one another ; some of them meeting the warnings of the Almighty with open profane scorn and ridicule; others putting them off for the present with such excuses as they may. Some “mo the LORD;” others say, “ We will hear thee again of this matter.” Thus, when drunkenness or wantonness is reproved ; when the Scripture woes are denounced against them who are “mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink ;” or when the grave caution of the Apostle is repeated, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth;” those who are most concerned are too apt to put the rebuke off lightly, as if it were a fair matter of jesting. And yet it was the wisest of all mankind, speaking by the Spirit of God, who said, “Fools (only) make a mock at sin.” And our gracious and indulgent Saviour Himself pronounced a woe on those who laugh now, on those who are thus incurably light-minded : “Woe unto such; for they shall mourn and weep."
If, notwithstanding such fearful admonitions, sensual transgressors, drunkards and wantons, will go on mocking when they are reproved, no wonder if those do so whose sins are more directly against their MAKER ; those who are avowedly irreligious and profane. And this, be it observed, is the temper to which wild and sensual courses, long indulged in spite of warning, are sure to bring a man at last. So are greedy and crafty habits : the way and mind of those who are determined, whatever it may cost their souls, to go all lengths with the world ; to take all gainful liberties which they see their neighbours taking. Such persons, I say, no less than the sensual, are “hardening their necks' ågainst reproof: the longer they go on in their covetousness, the more sullenly and scornfully will they hear, when God speaks to them of a judgment to come. Surely we cannot be too jealous of the first beginning of those evil tempers, the end of which is